Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary
A forest so rich and unhindered by development makes a superb home to many understory plant species. Above the sanctuary, protected watersheds for the towns of Lenox and Richmond add further uninterrupted green space, extending several miles along ridgetops. Walking Pleasant Valley's trails, especially in springtime blossom season, painted trillium, hepatica, jack-in-the-pulpit, and a host of other colorful bloomers greet you as they line the footpaths. A dazzling array of ferns, some 25 species, enjoy the valley's moisture, though each chooses its soil carefully. Walking fern likes the limestone cliffs, but cinnamon fern prefers wet areas, and on it goes. Pleasant Valley's birds owe a debt to the beavers. Marshy areas, often here a by-product of beaver ponds, attract numerous plants helpful to birds, for food (berries or insects) or for camouflage. The ecosystemwith soils supporting plants, and plants supporting animalsis easy to see on a slow walk around Pleasant Valley's wetlands.
Break out your binoculars and bird checklist if you come here looking for flying creatures. You will be kept busy (158 species recorded to date), especially in warmer months. Massachusetts Audubon provides many guided nature walks, some focusing on birds, others on beavers or wildflowers. A day pass is adequate, but if you're likely to visit the Berkshires again, a membership makes better sense. We have seen a large barred owl here (up close and personal), numerous blue and gray heron, occasionally a hawk (Cooper's hawks are most common), squadrons of honking Canada geese and quacking mallard ducks, and the impressively large pileated woodpecker, but the greatest variety of resident and visiting birds at Pleasant Valley are the smaller woodland birds in the hardwood forest. Among these, no fewer than 15 species of warblers live here or pass through.
Pikes Pond Trail is the easiest, shortest route for a sampling of habitats and birds, though it will only whet your appetite for more. Other trails near water are good for birding, too. The easiest warblers to spot here from early May to early July are the common yellowthroat and the yellow warbler. Against a background of deepening green, their coloring is a tip-off. The yellow warbler is almost entirely yellow; the common yellowthroat is yellow on the breast, tends toward brown on the back, and the male sports a black mask. Both birds are about five inches long. They enjoy swamp edges, streams, flowery plant life, and most berries. The sunny edge of the forest where the beaver ponds encroach is a good place to look and listen for them.
Among other warblers abundant at Pleasant Valley, you may spot American redstart (behaving like an avian butterfly, fanning its wings and tail), and Ovenbird (dullish brown back, brown spotted white breast). Common here in warmer months are the chestnut-sided, yellow-rumped (nesting only at higher elevations) and black-and-white warblers. Occasionally Pleasant Valley birders sight bay-breasted, blackpoll, black-throated blue, Canada, magnolia, Nashville, palm warbler, Tennessee, and Wilson's warblers. As some of the names suggest, these birds generally own southern property, too, though the distinction between true migrators (passing through), breeders, and residents may require the help of a good bird book. While most warblers nest in trees, a few are ground nesters, such as the ovenbird, Canada, and black-and-white.
Resident staff at Pleasant Valley have excellent eyes and ears and can teach you a symphony of birdsong, frequently the best way to identify species that hide in treetops. The annual Massachusetts Audubon Bird-a-thon is a fine way to a quick ornithological education and new friends, but you'll have to get up early and brave whatever weather the weekend brings. Serious birders are, well, shall we say, deep into their game.
Pleasant Valley Director Rene Laubach notes, "Most warblers are holding their own here, but one loss, since 1995, has been the golden-winged warbler (on the state endangered species list) which used to nest in the wet meadow section, now off limits to the public. The habitat is changing as the forest matures, and blue-winged warblers may drive the goldens out by competition." Nonetheless, says Laubach, for a beginner or experienced birder there is plenty to work on.
Even a casual stroll through meadow, wetland or woods at Pleasant Valley will erase any doubt about how this fine place came to have its name.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication